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Peter S. Henne

Religion, power and networks in international relations

Posted: June 13th, 2017 by phenne

I have begun a new research program that examines how religion can serve as a source of power in international relations. Religion is often seen as secondary to military or economic might, and if scholars do think it can be a form of power often focus on non-state actors or broad definitions of power. But can religion have a direct impact on states, compelling them to adopt policies they would otherwise not adopt or constituting actors and interests through social relations?

In order to answer this question, I am turning to two literatures that have not been extensively applied in the study of religion and international relations: the “practice turn” in international relations theory, and international hierarchies. I argue that the study of religion and IR has focused on religious politics as ideas or institutions; instead, we should analyze religious politics as a set of interactions among states, societies and individuals.

The central part of this project will be a new book manuscript examining cases of states’ appeals to religion as part of power politics. I will identify how and why states drew on religion, and what effects these appeals had. I presented a paper on religion as a source of power in interstate crises at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. I also presented a paper examining hierarchy outside of religion in the Middle East at the ISSS/ISAC conference in 2017.  Additionally, I laid some of the foundations for this project in a co-authored piece with Daniel Nexon of Georgetown University–One cheer for classical realism, or toward a power politics of religion, published in Religion and the Realist Tradition: From Political Theology to International Relations Theory and Back, edited by Jodok Troy–we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of classical realism in understanding religious politics and present a new framework for analyzing the power politics of religion.

Another important element of this project will be a series of articles applying social network analysis to the study of religious politics. I argue that this more dynamic approach to international religious politics can better assess their nature and impact. I presented a paper from this part of the project at the International Studies Association’s 2019 annual meeting, and will present other work in this vein at the 2019 Political Networks conference and the 2019 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

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